I bristled recently when a guy I know -- a generally progressive, liberal-minded kind of fellow -- said that Hillary Clinton was "kind of a Margaret Thatcher. " When I asked him to elaborate, he said, "Well, she's a bit of a ball buster."
I feel like these words, as off-hand as they might have been, sum up the entrenched attitudes about gender and politics in America. Hillary Clinton has almost nothing in common with Margaret Thatcher, the conservative former Prime Minister of England, aside from a propensity for somewhat matronly and fluffy up-do's. Oh, yes, and a vagina.
My friend would have done better to compare Hillary to another moderate who climbed through the ranks of government and fought doggedly for various causes along the way (LBJ, perhaps). Those fights, for Hillary, have revolved around issues such as healthcare reform, rights of women and children and same-sex marriage. Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, devoted much of her time in office to maintaining a free market economy, privatizing national industries and legislating tax cuts. She is in bed (metaphorically speaking) with the likes of Reagan and the George Bushes, senior and junior. She would never let Hillary under those sheets. My friend, though, couldn't see past their common gender, political track records be damned.
And then there is the "ball buster" comment. I know it has been said before -- that when men are forceful and outspoken, they are praised as good leaders, and when women are the same way, they are called bitches -- but since it's obviously still happening, I think I'll say it again. What makes Hillary more of a "ball buster" than, say, Bill Clinton? But Bill is repeatedly praised for getting things done during his tenure, while Hillary is maligned for being pushy. And why must her strength be characterized as a busting of balls per se? Urban Dictionary defines a ball buster as "a woman...who challenges the virility and dominance of a man by using verbal abuse or by controlling social situations usually controlled by men." When that term is bandied about, the implication is that being a powerful woman is somehow a direct attack on men.
Actually, maybe the epithet is apt in a sense. Hillary is, in fact, trying to control a social situation "usually controlled by men" -- if by "social situation" we mean the United States government. And she is "challenging the dominance" of men by suggesting there might be room for a few more women in the various branches of our democratic system. I guess it comes down to whether you see this as a problem or a mark of progress toward an equal and fair society.
The truth is that America is a supposedly advanced nation in the embarrassing situation of never having had a woman at the helm -- or even the Vice-helm. Our country has gotten too old for this childish national behavior. It's the 21st century. We're running out of excuses. Maybe there is one trick Hillary could learn from her not-so-kindred sister-in-arms Margaret Thatcher: how to get elected.